This article was published on July 20, 2016 in the print and online editions of Travel Weekly magazine
As we all know, understanding your customers’ buying behaviors is the first step to creating more effective and strategic campaigns. More than that, though, is knowing the differences in buyer behavior and desires between markets so you don’t take general statistics and apply them everywhere.
In order to show the important differences between markets, we compared travel intent for the U.S. overall as well as for four of its biggest cities from January to April 2016 to the same time period in 2015. Instead of simply looking at rankings, which tend to remain relatively static, we looked at destinations that were trending up or down year over year. By looking at travel trends for searchers from Chicago, Boston, New York and Washington, Sojern data showed how specific markets contribute and diverge from overall U.S. travel trends and what these trends can tell us about changes to travel and travel marketing.
Across the U.S., our data shows an average trip duration of seven days and average lead time of 61 days. Knowing the bigger trends is important but so, too, is looking at how each market differs so you can tailor your campaigns accordingly. Chicago, Boston and Washington, for instance, averaged shorter trips (six days). New York hit the average for trip duration but had a shorter lead time of 54 days, a full week less than the average. Your campaigns should be timed accordingly, not assuming everyone plans for a specific trip exactly the same as the U.S. average.
Caribbean remains a hot spot
The Caribbean has always been a hot spot for U.S. travelers, and interest in that region continues to rise: Guadeloupe; Martinique; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and Cuba are all in the top five emerging markets for all U.S. travel. And this interest is substantial: Guadeloupe showed an increase of 148% in travel intent, and Martinique was up 199% year over year.
Tempering that news is the fact that half of the top 20 declining U.S. destinations are in the Caribbean. But the decrease in interest is minimal: the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, for instance, only saw a 5% decline. In fact, Curacao was the Caribbean destination with the highest decline, and it was only 11%.
Things looked a bit different at the city level. For example, Cuba was the third-highest emerging market for New Yorkers but didn’t make the top 10 of the other three U.S. cities. For the top 10 emerging and declining destinations for these cities, Caribbean destinations made up:
- Boston: 10% of emerging markets, 50% of declining markets.
- Chicago: None of emerging markets, 40% of declining markets.
- New York: 20% of emerging markets, 60% of declining markets.
- Washington: None of emerging markets, 60% of declining markets.
Whether you’re a Caribbean travel marketer or someone who’s looking to drive repeat visits with Caribbean consumers, getting down to the city level is a great place to see where some of the changes in travel trends occur and where you might intercept travelers with your campaigns.
Unrest doesn’t influence all travelers
Political turbulence also had a deep impact on travel trends for all four of our cities. Most markedly, we saw a decline in interest to Belgium from Boston and Washington. Since our data compares January-to-April travel, and with the Brussels airport bombing occurring in March, we saw the decline in travel interest directly following the attack. However, looking at declining destinations for all of the U.S., Belgium doesn’t appear within the top 20 markets. This suggests that while some markets saw reduced interest in Belgium, it wasn’t enough to make a large impact in overall trends.
On the other hand, at the beginning of 2015, Ukraine signed a cease-fire, and interest in the area is beginning to increase as stability returns: It’s an emerging destination for New York and Chicago and is up 38% in overall U.S. interest. Ukraine, then, is a rising destination for both smaller and larger markets.
Iceland interest up across the board
Iceland, however, is the real winner as an emerging market. It showed up on all four cities’ top emerging destination lists, and it was up 148% in interest for all of the U.S.
This uptick in interest in Iceland is no accident: Icelandair, for example, has been running a number of innovative campaigns, including a stopover campaign from the U.S. to Europe that promises extra time in Iceland without additional airfare costs. Travel marketers should take note and be inspired to think outside the box in their future planning.
Understanding specific markets and how they contribute to or diverge from overall trends is a great place for travel marketers to gain further clarity and craft better strategies for campaigns. Assuming that everyone responds to events or behaves like the averages will lead to weaker campaigns and missed opportunities. If you’re looking for more macro trends, get our latest report: 2016 North America Travel Trends Report.
With more than 15 years of experience, Kurt Weinsheimer is a veteran in e-commerce and online travel. At Sojern, Kurt leads the company’s strategic partnerships. Prior to Sojern, Kurt served executive and leadership positions at Netpulse, Spot Runner Inc., Cendant Travel Distribution Services, WorldRes.com, and Patagonia. He was also founder and GM of the hotel division for Orbitz. Kurt received a B.A. from Boston College and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
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